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Them and us: countryside power players

Friday 14 October 2005

Our countryside commentator John Sheard muses on a national survey of the 100 people with the most power to help - or hinder - rural life and concludes that the baddies are winning

NORMALLY, I pay little attention to opinion polls. I suspect that many people questioned give the answer they think the pollster wants to hear - or simply lie when the subject is politics.

But when one comes out that reinforces views that I have been spouting on about for years, I am prepared to concede that there might be some truth in there after all. It is always nice to be able to say, I told you so.

This week, that bible of upper class rural society, Country Life, drew up a list of the 100 most powerful people in the countryside - for good or bad. Some of the names were surprising, other inevitable. Sadly, the Number One slot was taken by the forces of evil.

This was none other than Two Jags John Prescott himself, who is doing more to destroy rural life - and huge tracts of the British countryside - than anyone in political history.

His total lack of understanding of rural affairs has been featured in this column many times. His first act in power was to scrap by-passes about to be built round the beleaguered villages on the A65, sentencing locals to further years of danger, noise and fumes from traffic that turns their idyllic communities into a perpetual nightmare.

Some months ago, in an act of unparalleled spite, he rescinded the planning permissions for those bypasses granted some 20 years ago. If those villagers are ever to get their bypasses, the process will have to start all over again - with more millions going on fees for lawyers and consultants.

In the past, I have often said that Prescott, sadly a Yorkshireman from Hull, is anti-North Yorkshire because that is where the nobs live. Country Life, in placing him as the Number One villain, takes it further, saying he is simply prejudiced against all country folk.

One of the grounds for this is that he disliked the "contorted faces" of Countryside Alliance members. If we are talking the good, the bad and the ugly here, was there ever a worse case of the kettle calling the pot?

Number Two in the power list is, thankfully, a goody- as we have mentioned here many a time - Prince Charles, a loyal friend of the Yorkshire Dales and a regular visitor. One suspects he would rather be a simple countryman, rather than a future king.

His support of organic farming, and his opposition to huge housing developments on green field sites, has made him anathema to the politicians. They must be enraged that many of his ideas have hit home with parts of the British public that the Westminster whackos have been unable to reach.

Other names on the list are virtually unknown - like the soil chemist Professor Mark Kibblewhite - and others immensely famous, like the singer Madonna, who has given up appearing on stage semi-nude to become an English country lady, still recovering from a riding accident.

She and her husband actually won a case of keep walkers off part of their country estate, despite the Right to Roam acts. How they must hate her down in Wandsworth, home of the militants who have seized control of the Ramblers' Association.

It makes a good read, this list, but sadly it seems to contain as many baddies as it does the good guys and gals. The baddies include large-scale house builders who are gobbling up thousands of green acres and the promoters of wind-farms who plan to despoil any bits of beautiful countryside the builders have not concreted over.

And that takes us back to Baddie No One, Two Jags himself. You see, without his enthusiastic support, the rest of the baddies would be refused permission to carry out their rural ruinations. But who has the power to fight him? That job technically belongs to Defra Secretary Margaret Beckett. Sadly, she ranks No 26!

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